In Conversation with Guitarist JD Simo
BD: I was delighted when Mascot Label asked us to review your latest album Let Love Show You The Way. It is an album full of twists and turns and luscious tones. In other words enjoyed the album very much.
BD: What were your first musical influences growing up in Chicago?
JD Simo: Early influence was Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Heard Elvis and fell in love with his music and the Family Tree of music leads up to him and then all the music after him. Went on exploring music after the initial influences.
American music Hillbilly Country and Country are a melding of working class black and white, a co-mingling of styles. Gospel and Rn’B are inter-related. Back in the 50’s lines between genres were blurred, listen to music including Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Howlin’ Wolf listen and the similarities are working class primeval places.
BD: Genres have become fixed putting musicians into categories.
JD Simo: I understand the need in a commercial environment. There needs to be high levels of brand recognition so that the consumers know what they are letting themselves in for. All of us in the band do not mind at all being associated with the blues. Blues is a big foundation of our music, but we don’t really play the blues live. Feel embarrassed in the respect of the art form as I feel we are not representative of blues and what is being said about us. We are a Rock, Rock n’Roll band to our core.
BD: In the preamble Joe Bonamassa has quoted you JD as one of the best around. Quite a recommendation how does that add to the pressure?
JD Simo: Not added pressure, just grateful that he has been so kind. Joe has been a good friend of mine for a while, love him as a friend. It goes deeper than just a friendship. Compliments are always good from others, in fact, make me feel bashful with all the kindness and grateful. The pressure, we put that on ourselves, pressure to do better tonight and the next night.
BD: Having reviewed the Album, can you tell us about recording in the Big House and the inspiration behind Let Love Show The Way
JD Simo: Incredible experience, it was all haphazard just happened. We went with intention of just doing a couple of bonus tracks that the label, mascot wanted. The rest of the album was already recorded. I have friends involved with Allman Brothers so seemed to be a good place to record Macon Georgia. As a session musician I’m not that keen on recording in a studio and like to record in different spaces, quirky places. We had two days set aside. I have found that essentially the recording process is either fast or slow and not many points in-between. So a truck load of equipment arrived from Nashville. All worked perfectly and after an hour we had the bonus tracks recorded and had the extra time to fill so just kept working and then eight, nine, ten tracks were cut and usable. We just repeated the whole process the next day and left feeling really good but reserving judgment until starting mixing after we finished a bunch of shows. So mixed 2/3 songs really happy with them so decided with the engineer to keep mixing result a better album than the one we already had! Now with new running order sent off to Mascot – they agreed. Yes, we were inspired didn’t go with idea of making a record. Core was raw a jamming feel we are a bit of a schizophrenic group. We mix tightly constructed songs around three minutes including Please and I Lied, these are concise songs. Others are vehicles for improvisation when playing live and recording, We enjoy doing both. The mix jam and structured songs bring a balance we love them both and gives records a balanced feel keep trying to achieve this on the next record as well.
BD: Everyone is always interested in guitars what are your preferred set-ups plus the obvious thrill it must have been playing Duane Allman’s 1957 Goldtop
JD Simo: Guitar set-up is minimal. I do not have a complicated rig – no pedals just plug straight into the amp. I have a great love of vintage equipment it is a passion and a hobby. Old Gibson electric is my main guitar and 1960’s Fender/Marshall amps. For me, this gives a clear sound not muddled in the way of playing. Leave it to the hands to decide what to do, treat it like a voice you sing straight into a microphone. It’s pure that is what I am trying to accomplish.
Playing Duane Allman’s Goldtop was a thrill all that history. I am friends with the gentleman who owns it and have used it multiple times, on display in the museum in Macon. I was told I was welcome to use it what an honour, especially in that environment the Old House and old guitar. It is definitely one of those career moments you will always look back on and say Wow!
It is amazing that Duane is so well remembered not just in America but over here as well, the biggest pity is he never got to see the success. Allman’s were playing in front of fifty or so people in colleges and less in clubs often only around fifteen. Filmore’s was the exception and being on big bills at a handful of festivals. He never experienced the full wack of all the hard work. Boy did the Allman’s work hard and then Duane was taken. When he passed in 1972 Allman’s then started to headline he missed the success by a matter of months a real shame.
Being a new group getting established equates to the amount of hard work takes will play a lot and not sleep you have to be rigorous playing lots shows so climb to the point where people are aware of you. Nothing has really changed, it’s the same process. I am grateful people take time to listen, review, interview us and come to our shows it keeps the momentum building.
BD: I have always been interested in the lyrics of a song. Where do you get your inspiration for your songwriting?
JD Simo: All very personal. I Lied is me talking about not feeling very comfortable admitting when something is wrong. Expressing something that troubles me can do it in a song. Pulled a couple passages from Allen Ginsberg around his love of Jack Kerouac – being a man who is frightened not clear but the spoken phrasing encapsulates the inner madness and not having the acumen to do it. Then I’ll Always be Around is not a romantic song, but about a very close friendship coming to an end. There are also ethereal songs I’d Rather Die In Vain internal struggle of not letting negative side of one’s thoughts. One thing to be positive but often easier to yield to the more negative side. Internal struggle not always been easy. Songs have to be real not a penchant with something made-up. Normally I have to express a reality. Easier through songs than the spoken word.
BD: Having talked about guitars and lyrics do you consider yourself as a guitarist first, vocalist second or they equally important
JD Simo: Always be a guitarist. Older I get the vocals become more important. People including me respond to the singer more than another instrument. The voice conveys the emotion in every song, so I get to express myself. Analogy of a guitarist or any instruments use it as a shield to express, it is what you hide behind. When you sing you have nothing raw as ever but nothing to hide behind. Taken long time to feel confident. Gratifying as no purer way to express yourself. With an instrument all the notes are right where you left them. Whereas the human voice is not like that, it is more temperamental, every night it is different. Depending on what you have eaten, how much talking on a daily basis the voice changes, how you express yourself with the voice is most human.
BD I am sure you have many plans for 2016 and beyond for SIMO – hope you are going to do a more extensive tour of UK.
JD Simo: We are back in Europe in July and have lots of festivals including Ramblin’ Man and Cornbury in the UK. Then we are back in the fall for extended Planet Rock tour throughout the UK. BD: I hope that includes Wales.
JD Simo: Love to visit there too. Be amazing how recognition of band has grown from first London gig last year then the recent three gigs London. Sheffield and York. Taken aback by the audience it was wonderful lovely that an unknown band was sold out in London and Sheffield. Real thrill to see people queuing to get in. Always been influenced by UK RnB. Thanks to British groups playing the sound was re-energized as beginning to wain in America back in the 60’s. Getting to play in the UK has been very cool and becoming a fan of sausage and mash.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing
JD Simo: This is fun….
Drums: Elvin Jones – Jazz drummer Miles Davies, John Coltrane etc.
Bass: Carl Radle – Derek & the Dominoes, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton etc.
Guitars: Daune Allman and of course JD Simo have to be able to play with him on my fantasy band.
Vocals: Steve Winwood – Traffic, Blind Faith etc..
Organ: Billy Preston
Tenor Sax: King Curtis
Trombone: Tom Malone
Trumpet: Wayne Jackson
Now should I have two drums moment consideration and it was yes so
Second Drums Al Jackson Jnr joins the band drummer at Stax and Booker T drummer.
SIMO – Members: J. D. Simo, (guitar & Vocals) Adam Abrashoff, (Bass), Elad Shapiro (drums).
Albums: Let Love Show The Way, Love, Vol. 1
Genres: Blues-rock, Psychedelic rock, Jazz fusion
Read more about SIMO HERE
Read Bluesdoodles review Let Love Show You The Way HERE